Lawmakers tout closer ties to Russia to fight Chechen 'threat'

The ongoing violence in the northern Caucasus is now a “threat” to the United States that requires closer cooperation with Russia, lawmakers said Friday in response to the Boston bombings.


House Repbublicans and Democrats made the remarks at a hearing on Islamist extremism in Chechnya and the surrounding region. 

The two suspects in the Boston marathon attack that killed three and injured more than 200 are ethnic Chechens, from a troubled Russian republic that has fought two wars against Moscow since the end of the Cold War.

“Greater cooperation with Russia and the governments of Central Asia should be explored in order to properly respond to this emerging threat,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs panel on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. 

“This part of the world is critical to the future of the human race. If it becomes dominated by a radical version of Islam, it will change the course of history in an extremely negative way.”

The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.), said what began as an ethnic struggle fueled by mass deportations of Chechen Muslims under Stalin has morphed into “an insurgency that presents a threat to our homeland.”

“There is undoubtedly a delicate balance between cooperation with Russia on counterterrorism and concern over Russia’s human rights abuses, but in no way should this hinder working together to protect the lives of innocent people,” he said. “At the end of the day, that is what we all want.”

The Boston attack has shone a spotlight on human rights abuses by both Russian troops and insurgents in the North Caucasus. 

At the same time, it has brought the United States and Russia closer together, with Russian authorities flagging one of the suspects to U.S. authorities before the attack. President Vladimir Putin vowed his country's cooperation, and Russian law enforcement is helping the FBI gain access to the bombing suspects' parents in Dagestan, near Chechnya.

Underscoring lawmakers' hope for closer cooperation with Russia, Rohrabacher said he reached out to the Russian embassy to recommend a witness that could present Russia's perspective at the hearing. The embassy produced Andranik Migranyan, director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a pro-Kremlin think tank in New York.

"Our [disagreements] should not prevent us from realizing that we are facing a common enemy and to cooperate against it is both common sense and inherently moral,” he said.

Rohrabacher thanked the Russians for their participation.

“I'm sorry the Russian embassy can send people, but the State Department can't,” Rohrabacher quipped after the Obama administration declined to provide a witness. The State Department did not return a request for comment.